TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Taipei Mayor Ko Wen-je (柯文哲) on Wednesday (May 26) lashed out at the de facto U.S. ambassador for his country's apparent lack of urgency in sending vaccines to Taiwan.
During a Q&A session at his farewell press conference on Wednesday, American Institute in Taiwan (AIT) Director Brent Christensen appeared to attempt to lower expectations that Taiwan would be prioritized for U.S. vaccine shipments, despite an outbreak of local cases. Indicating that other countries may be prioritized, Christensen stressed that many of the country's neighbors are experiencing outbreaks, while "Taiwan's infection numbers are still among the lowest in the world."
Continuing to temper expectations, Christensen said the standards or criteria for distributing vaccines are still being developed, including the level of infection, the capacity of healthcare systems, and the level of vaccination. Christensen pointed out that Taiwan's own domestic vaccines will be coming online in the coming months and said, "I can assure everyone that we are engaging with Taiwan at all levels," without mentioning any timeline for vaccines from the U.S.
At a press conference that afternoon, Ko countered Christensen's remarks by saying, "If you don't think the situation in Taiwan is urgent, go ahead and go to a hospital and you'll know. How could it not be urgent?" He quipped, "Does Taiwan have to be comparable to India and start to have a certain death toll before [vaccine shipments] can begin?"
Ko said that as a mayor, he is normally reluctant to criticize the representatives of other countries for comments they make, "but we ate ractopamine pork, bought arms, so [Christensen's] meaning is 'you've only had 11 deaths, that's not too many?'"
The mayor then concluded that Taiwan has to solve its problems on its own and he acknowledged the complexities of Taiwan's international status. He recognized that the U.S. has is its own priorities and that it must first ensure it has enough vaccines for its own people.
He predicted that even when the U.S. has finished vaccinating its population, Taiwan will not be a priority because there are many countries in Central and South America in need.
Regarding a comment he made the previous day about the international vaccine stockpile, he said that he was not referring exclusively to the Pfizer–BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine. He urged the government to seek any international stocks of vaccines; without them, he said the current restrictions will have to stay in place.
Ko said that, speaking as a doctor and an expert in critical care medicine, "there will be deaths all along the way" if Taiwan has to go on like this without vaccines until September.
"Right now, it's only because of a voluntary lockdown of the city that cases have stabilized somewhat," said the mayor. However, if the restrictions are lifted, "cases will definitely explode."
He said now that hospitals are now dedicating all their resources to treating coronavirus patients, treatment for other patients has almost come to a complete stop. So I have to ask "Give it to us straight, when will the vaccines come?"